Simple Ways to Savor a Central Florida Summer
By Kirsten Harrington / Photos by Visual Cuisines
With the heat of summer upon us, gardens and farmers’ markets are overflowing with lush, ripe produce. If the words “canning” and “pressure-cooker” make you break out into a cold sweat, take heart. There are lots of simple ways to preserve the flavors of summer to savor all year long.
“Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, and everything comes ready at the same time,” says LuAnn Duncan of the University of Florida’s Orange County Extension Service. She suggests having a game plan to take full advantage of the season. Know which method of preserving you want to use, have all of your containers and equipment ready, and clear some time in your schedule.
Start by cleaning out your freezer, which is more than just a place to stash ice cream and mystery leftovers. With proper preparation, it can become a treasure chest of seasonal goodies and go-to flavor boosters for the months ahead.
According to Duncan, frozen produce ranks high in nutritional value, and you can freeze just about anything. Make sure everything is sealed in airtight containers and clearly labeled with the date and contents.
Freeze melon chunks and enjoy them partially thawed, or better yet, turn that just-ripe cantaloupe or watermelon into sorbet or ice pops. Avocados freeze beautifully and can be defrosted for guacamole or added to smoothies. Simply mash with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per avocado to preserve the color, and store in plastic freezer bags.
Duncan suggests freezing diced onions on a cookie sheet and then storing them in freezer bags to defrost as needed. Blending fresh herbs with a little water or stock and freezing in ice cube trays yields savory cubes that can be added to soups, stews and casseroles.
Making freezer jam is a snap, and the no-cook versions capture the fresh fruit flavors of peaches, mangoes and berries with much less work than traditional canned jams. Find instant fruit pectin in the grocer’s canning aisle, mix with sugar and crushed fruit and the jam is ready.
Summer veggies like eggplants and peppers can be simmered together with a few spices for a quick pasta sauce or bruschetta topping, and that abundant basil can be turned into pesto in minutes. Freeze in individual serving containers to make getting dinner on the table a breeze.
Cindy Scott of Long and Scott Farms enjoys sweet corn all year by freezing enough creamed corn to last until next season. “Cut the kernels off, and then press on the cob with a knife to get the milk,” she says. Place in a casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Once the mixture cools, it can be frozen. To serve, reheat with butter, salt and pepper and a little water if necessary. “We serve it at family reunions every year, and it’s good,” Scott says.
She has a few customers who freeze corn on the cob—husks and all—in a paper bag with the top rolled tightly closed. To serve, take the corn out of the freezer, remove husks and boil frozen corn 4 to 5 minutes. What could be easier? (We tried it—it really works!)
Visit longandscottfarms.com for more tips on freezing corn.
If you can boil water, you can make pickles. Refrigerator pickles involve no special canning techniques, and they last for several months. “Anything that I have canned you can keep in the refrigerator instead if you don’t want to process it (in hot water),” Scott says.
Cucumbers, onions, okra, peppers, green beans, summer squash and even peaches can be pickled. Pickling spices are available pre-packaged, and most come with simple directions for making refrigerator pickles using vinegar, salt and water.
“Dehydrating is one of the easiest things you can do with mangoes or any of the fruit that is about to go bad,” says Krystal Edwards, owner of Skyebird Juice Bar in the East End Market. For a little more than $30, a simple dehydrator is a workhorse for capturing the flavors of summer.
Edwards makes fruit leather by blending mangoes, pears, apples or bananas with a little lemon juice and drying the mixture on parchment paper or drying racks in the dehydrator for 4 to 6 hours. Flip the fruit leather over halfway through the drying time. “Or you can just slice up the mangoes and dry them. There are so many awesome things to make—you just have to play with it,” says Edwards, who likes to add a little maple syrup or coconut oil to her fruit leather. Once dried, cool in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 hours, and wrap in plastic wrap.
Experiment with peanuts, sweet peppers rings and corn kernels for lunch box snacks, or plan ahead and make dried herb blends or mint tea sachets to give for Christmas. Some vegetables benefit from blanching before drying to slow enzyme action, kill any bacteria and shorten the drying time. Visit pickyourown.org for dehydrating tips.
• Pickyourown.org is a great resource for finding and preparing local produce, including specifics on dehydrating, freezing and making jam.
• The Orange County Extension can help with food preservation questions. Call them at (407) 254-9200.
• The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving covers the basics of canning, freezing, pickling and dehydrating. Look for it at your local library, or buy it online.
Mango Key Lime Freezer Jam
Makes 2 (8-ounce) jars
1 2/3 cups mashed mango pulp (about 3 small mangoes)
1½ teaspoons fresh Key lime juice (may substitute regular fresh lime juice)
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons Ball instant pectin
1 Stir mango pulp and lime juice together in large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix sugar and pectin.
2 Add sugar mixture to mangoes, and stir thoroughly for 3 minutes. Ladle into clean glass jars or plastic containers. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to one year.
2 cups diced Florida avocado
1 cup whole milk
2 cups vanilla yogurt or ice cream
½ to 1 lime, juiced
Blend avocado and milk in blender until smooth. Add frozen yogurt, lime juice and a few ice cubes, and blend until smooth and creamy.
Quick Pickled Okra
1 pound okra, washed and sliced in half lengthwise
6 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 cups water
3 cups distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cups sliced onions
1 Toss okra with 3 tablespoons salt; place in a colander. Drain in the sink 1 hour.
2 Combine water, vinegar, remaining 3 tablespoons salt, sugar, cayenne and mustard seeds in a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil; add onions, cooking 1 minute until slightly softened.
3 Rinse okra well under cool running water. Put okra into glass canning jars. Pour hot brine mixture over okra, pressing to submerge okra. Cool to room temperature.
4 Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours before using. Store refrigerated up to one month.